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McKean Minute: Homemade Hunter Ed


A pair of interesting dynamics are colliding in plain sight. On the one hand, social-distancing rules and stay-at-home orders to reduce spread of the COVID-19 virus are playing hell with traditional Hunter Education courses.

Most state agencies have cancelled or indefinitely postponed their Hunter and Bowhunter Ed classes, often held in classrooms with poor ventilation and inadequate room to practice social distancing. Unfortunately, these courses are required for new hunters to take and pass before they can buy a hunting license.

The colliding dynamic? Interest in hunting is spiking. Many state agencies are seeing record license sales and intense interest in the fall seasons. Hunting is one of the few activities that can be done safely in a pandemic, and the reward—healthy, unprocessed meat—is in short supply as commercial meat-packing plants are infected and trips to supermarkets are fraught with anxiety and stifling masks.

States are under increasing pressure to deliver Hunter Education, but maybe we shouldn’t leave it only up to agencies. There’s plenty that you and I can do to help educate a hunter to be safe, knowledgeable, and effective.

How? It starts with you, but for each of us it’s different. Each one of us knows a beginning hunter who has an interest in learning but doesn’t know how to begin. She needs to learn to operate a gun safely and effectively, and most people reading this would make excellent and patient instructors. He needs to know to pick appropriate gear, and many of us are self-described gear junkies. She needs to know where to go to find squirrels, and rabbits, and deer. He needs to know how wild animals behave, and how to tell the difference between a quail and a chickadee.

We all have the abilities to pass on critical information, but we’ve held back. In some cases, we’ve been reluctant to commit to becoming a certified Hunter Education volunteer instructor. Some of us don’t have the time to teach a formal course, and many of us feel uncomfortable standing up in front of a classroom.

But we are all teachers, and we all have abundant knowledge to pass on, whether in a classroom or not. But even more critically, we have passion, concern, energy, and wisdom to pass on, and those are qualities that have never been in higher demand. So, while we wait for states to figure out how to certify this next generation of hunters, let’s do what we can in our hometowns, teaching our neighbors how to handle guns safely, sharing our gear with beginning hunters we know from church or school, and sharing contents of our freezers with friends who are tepid about the palatability of game meat.

Just don’t wait to be asked. The entire structure of formal Hunter Ed is built on the time and talents of volunteers. Take that one step further and become a volunteer without Hunter Ed. Every would-be hunter you help now will be that much more prepared once formal Hunter Education resumes.

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McKean Minute: Pluck vs. Grit

The old man leaned into the campfire and ejected a long, rich stream of brown tobacco juice.

“You know the difference between grit and pluck?”

I was just a punk kid, and didn’t recognize the purpose of the question, or the meaning of the moment. I allowed that they sounded like characters in a cartoon.

The man, a dozer operator my dad had hired for a pond-digging job who came back to our place later to hunt deer, didn’t acknowledge my impudence. He had asked permission to camp in a corner of our back pasture, and my dad let me walk out there one evening to check on the man, probably because he knew I’d get a dose of wisdom just like this. It occurred to me years later that this man, who lived a couple counties over, was one of the first people I encountered who was perfectly content with his own company. But he welcomed me to his fire and after an uncomfortable—at least to me—silence, he got down to the matter.

“Grit. That’s how you get through. Doesn’t matter if it’s a hard job on a hot afternoon or a lifetime of tough luck. It’s about putting your head down and enduring. Nothing worthwhile ever comes without grit.

“Now pluck is something else entirely. Pluck is a sort of electricity. It’s what you make of things, how you respond to a given moment. It might be seeing a new way to build a dam or some fleeting chance your gut tells you to take.

“Each by themselves,” the man said, and spit again into the oakwood fire, “will get you by, but only barely. Folks with only grit can be hard and humorless. They think the world owes them something. People who run on pluck are gamblers that burn like this fire.

“But you put the two together. Now there’s a person worth knowing.”

When I went back to the pasture a couple days later, the man and his fire were gone. I never learned if he had shot a deer or not. But I’ve thought about pluck and grit nearly every day since.

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McKean Minute: How About National Gratitude Day?

Did you make it through Independence Day? Sunburned, sweaty, angry, and scared. Those adjectives probably define most of us in this national Summer of Discontent.

This year’s July 4 recognition was marked by heavy strains of patriotism, sure, but also another kind of strain – one that questions if the freedoms articulated in the Declaration of Independence 244 years ago extend to all Americans now. I, for one, welcome these reconsiderations of our traditions and beliefs, because I think the idea of America can endure beyond the iconography of America.

But celebrating Independence Day for me isn’t about recognizing our military might or our (diminishing) role of leader of the free world. Instead, it’s about recalling the audacious statements of the Declaration of Independence and the idea that all people are born free, and that institutions exist to celebrate and defend that freedom, not quench it.

But that’s not why I’m writing today. I’m preparing you for another national holiday whose reconsideration is long overdue. It’s Thanksgiving, and while I know it’s months in the future, I want to propose a way to square it with history, to make it widely celebrated, and to allow it to serve a purpose that’s been diluted by commercialism.

I propose we make a minor edit to the proper name of this holiday, changing Thanksgiving to Thanks Giving. It may seem inconsequential, but it would allow our November holiday to finally deliver the call to action that was intended. It would be a national day of gratitude in which we—individually and collectively—come together over this most human of impulses, to give thanks. Sure, it might still have all the trappings that have made it our national day of turkey-and-gravy consumption, and a good excuse for Thursday NFL games, but it would remind us that this is ultimately a day to remember all the good in our lives, and to thank those responsible for it.

It would also get away from the most problematic part of our current Thanksgiving, this historical lie that Native Americans were welcome hosts to their demise. The truth is much more complicated, and while I love the parts of Thanksgiving that pay homage to our collective history and heritage, if the Fourth of July can be denigrated as being oppressive, then surely the future of Thanksgiving is just as fragile. In fact, as we tear apart whole foundations of our national identity, preserving an opportunity to unite is more important than ever.

There will be calls to abolish Thanksgiving, but it would be a shame to do away with the holiday all together. Every American is in sore need of pausing a moment in gratitude to thank all the people who have created this nation, who have built our cities and homes, who deliver food and nurse our sick, who fight fires and wear uniforms of service, who keep the lights on and the roads plowed. Sure, we have our differences, but the one unifying force for good in the world is our ability to thank each other. I would hate to lose a chance to recognize that, and to throw aside a vital national holiday as a symbol of oppression.

Thanks Giving is not about that. It’s about convening around the things we have in common: our ability to say thank you to those who have improved our lives and our communities.

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McKean Minute: Burying Rugged

Hunting buddies can be as easy to make as falling off a log. Some friendships are based around mutual need. Others on shared gear or simply shared space and time.

But other times, developing a friendship based around hunting or fishing can be unexpectedly hard. We outdoorsmen—and I use the masculine on purpose—are proud, private, and don’t let strangers into our lives easily. That goes double for our sporting lives, which are built around carefully curated gear, hard-won access, and traditions and rituals that don’t always translate easily to a newcomer.

But I was friends with Ron Gulbertson almost before I realized it. I had seen him around town for years, often on his Harley, his signature handlebar moustache blowing in the breeze, but I didn’t really get to know him until I joined his goose-hunting posse. It was there, in strafing winds and aching cold, lying on our backs in a frozen field waiting for geese to circle, that we became buddies.

More accurately, it was Joe Horn’s posse, and both Ron and I were deputized. Joe, a retired veteran, retired cop, and very active goose-hunting addict, invited lots of people to join his crew, but not very many became repeat participants. Partly that’s because Joe runs a tight ship, dictating where and how to hunt, how to set the decoys, and even when to take the birds as they glide into range.

Too many rules for some folks, but Ronnie seemed as happy as me to be along. I contributed decoys, a ground blind or two, and before I knew it, I was making plans most weeks to waylay big Canada geese, fresh from the north. Like any friendship, we had our rituals. Ronnie was always on the left side of our line of ground blinds, and I took the right flank. His place was earned because of his ability to make impossibly long shots. Mine because as the only lefty of the group, it was easier for me to swing to my right than to my left.

Ronnie might have weighed 100 pounds soaking wet, and as I got to know him, I learned about his long list of maladies. Replaced joints, heart operations, slow recovery from another car wreck. As much as Joe and I tried to baby him—keeping him in the pickup until the decoys were set, getting his blind ready, keeping him warm—Ronnie was more commonly right among us, doing his share to set up and take down our spread.

“Old-Timer,” Joe called him, and you could tell there was real affection between the two. I heard Ron referred to as “Rugged” by other mutual friends. But to me he was always “Ron,” or after an especially good shoot, “Ronnie.”

Ronnie died last week. His heart finally gave up. Joe called me with the news, and asked me to be a pallbearer. Joe was too torn up to help carry his casket.

“Hell, I toted Ronnie all over hell in my pickup for geese, and in my airboat for pike. I don’t think I have it in me to give him one last ride,” Joe told me. I reminded Joe that the job of pallbearer isn’t for the living; it’s a final gift to the dead. I guess that line worked, because on Friday Joe was right beside me, giving Rugged his last lift.

We buried him in a little cemetery next to a prairie church. As the pastor said a few final words, Joe’s eye caught mine. He nodded to the north. There was a wheat field, green as Ireland with heading grain now, but I knew what Joe meant. That’s a field where we had taken dozens of limits of honkers with Ronnie over the years.

Rest in peace, Rugged. I know you’ll be helping with the effort as we decoy geese over your grave come December. You take the birds on the left, especially those ones so far out they could only be yours.

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McKean Minute: Wiped Out – My Checkered History with Toilet Paper

My first day on the job at the now-defunct Fishing & Hunting News was a disaster. I had reported to work at the downtown Seattle office and printing plant expecting the sort of intake procedure most new employees face: paperwork, human resources interviews, and maybe a facilities tour.

Instead, my managing editor handed me galleys of empty pages, pointed to a cubicle with a phone and a computer, and told me to finish a week of work by the end of the day. After three hours of rapid-fire interviews, I suddenly recalled the short-term parking meter I had fed in the morning. I ran to the street to find three tickets under a windshield wiper. Realizing the parking fines would wipe out a couple days of wages, I found a parking garage, and ran back to the office, trying to avoid glares from my editor. Three hours later, I realized two other things: I was starving, and I had to use the bathroom.

A fellow editor gave me directions to the latrine, and I pulled the stall door shut with a deep sigh. Finally, a spot of peace and quiet in a whirlwind of a day. I did my business, reached over for the toilet paper, and… The roll was as bare as my bottom. I looked around the stall. No replacements, not even a stack of paper towels or a copy of our newspaper.

So, I did what any of you would do. I pulled out my knife and cut the pockets out of my first-day-of-work pants.

I recall this memory as America struggles through a national shortage of toilet paper, one of the first and most curious casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I also recall that for much of my life, I’ve worked around a lack of TP. As a farm kid, I sometimes found myself in a remote field with a certain urgency. In those times, I normally used leaves or handfuls of grass to take care of myself, but after one particularly unfortunate incident—let’s just say that it taught me how to positively identify poison ivy—I started adapting. My mom once asked why so many of my work shirts had the tails cut off. I mumbled something about shortening them so they wouldn’t get caught in machinery, but I think she knew the real reason.

I’ve used socks, cut off the hems of pants, and have used everything from handfuls of snow to cattail fronds to take care of myself. Once, I even used my tie.

I’m not proud of any of this, but I mention this as a sort of pep talk. This toilet paper shortage will pass, so to speak, and once again we’ll have task-specific paper products back on store shelves. Until then, my best advice: pack a knife.

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Working Remotely while Entertaining and Educating your Kids-with Conservation

Strange Times

As an American workforce reacts to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are finding ourselves in uncharted territory. Working from home, school and daycare closures and the uncertainty of life as we know it. In these strange times though, we do know a couple of things. First and foremost is that this will pass. Second, that our love for the outdoors will not die. Third, it is exponentially more difficult to get any work done at home with each repetition of Frozen II blaring in the background.

Here at Powderhook, we decided to put our heads together to give you some resources and tools to help you occupy your kids so that you can get some work done. More importantly, though, we wanted to help you take your kids’ education into your own hands during this time. We want to help you mold a conservation-minded generation and inspire your kids to get outside once this is all over. In addition to the hard work and dedication of their remote teachers, let’s take this rare opportunity to form a syllabus that can teach our kids the lessons of conservation, the importance of wildlife and maybe—just maybe—that their parents still have something to teach them.

Educational Resources

Arizona Game & Fish’s “Learning From Home”boasts an impressive suite of online educational tools for kids that can be done anytime and anywhere. Some can be printed out (or offered as a digital download), while others can be viewed directly online.

The “Focus Wild” issues feature pdf’s that can be printed out from the Department’s Arizona Wildlife Views magazine. These lessons cover everything from learning about becoming “Bear Aware”, understanding “Water Adaptations” and introducing your kids to “Aldo Leopold”. Simply print these articles out the night before or load them on a tablet and make sure you have the requisite materials (if any) for the associated activities. We recommend that your student (or student leader) be at a 3rd-grade reading level or higher for these activities.

Arizona Game & Fish also has a “Wild Kids” learning series which features educational worksheet activities organized by grade level. In these lessons, your students can learn about topics such as “Protecting Wildlife(4th-6th Grade)”, “Riparian Habitats(Kindergarten-3rd Grade)” & “Fire Ecology(7th Grade-12th Grade”.

Pennsylvania’s Game Commission has plenty to offer on its education page. One program in particular that stands out is its “Envirothon Program” which offers learning objectives, reference material and learning enhancements geared towards identifying different species of trees. We recommend this course for Junior and Senior high students.

Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency hosts several “Fun Links” for kids that are both entertaining and educational. One of our favorites is the “Educational Coloring Book”. These coloring activities, which are easily printed out, allow your younger students to not only color but learn fun conservation-oriented facts. It has the added benefit of giving young children the early practice of animal species identification.

Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources gives you all the tools and some reading materials for your students to set up an in-depth curriculum through their “Learning to Hunt Activity Guide”. This guide will require a bit more preparation on your part as the educator, but it has an extremely fulfilling and knowledge-intensive course load. Some lessons require less preparation than others. We recommend these activities for students that can enjoy reading around topics such as “What Should I do?- Outdoors Ethics”, “Calling a Trophy Tom” and “Navigating Naturally”. Take a moment to browse through some of the lessons to see which ones will work for your schedule, environment and your student’s education level.

New Mexico’s Department of Game & Fish gives you “Discover New Mexico Wildlife Education” which offers a curriculum that is focused on New Mexico wildlife and wildlife management. Don’t worry though, kids from all states can benefit from the coursework. These lessons are intended for upper elementary and middle school grade students. However, if you have a wide age range of kids, a middle or high school-aged student could lead the younger students in the coursework.

Ducks Unlimited’s Greenwing Program offers a very interactive and fun suite of educational tools to help younger students learn all about waterfowl and wetland conservation. Activities include printable coloring exercises that help with species identification, early readers, an interactive feature story, animal jokes, and videos. They also have Educational Games such as “Duck Shooter”, “Jumper Frog”, “Match the Waterfowl” and “Find the Green Wing” which are sure to keep your students entertained (and educated!) for hours.

Pheasants Forever also has a website that’s full of pheasant facts for your students to impress the neighborhood kids with. That is, once we can begin reducing our social distancing practices.

QDMA (Quality Deer Management Association) has an online classroom for those students that are serious about deer hunting and that are looking to take their knowledge of deer, habitat, and hunting to the next level. At the end of these courses, your little deer hunter will probably be able to teach you a thing or two in the deer woods this upcoming season.

Online Hunter Education Courses

Online Hunters Education Courses: You could also take this time to enroll your child in an online hunting education course. Even if you aren’t a hunter yourself, or if your child has already taken a hunter education course (or is planning on it) this is a great idea. It will allow your student to work his or her way through a self-paced, engaging and entertaining course that will occupy them for most of the day. You can also spread it out over several weeks depending on your student’s preference. The following states offer the International Hunter Education Association approved online courses for your student, which has reciprocity throughout the US. Please check your state’s requirements, which may include age restrictions and an in-person field day before the student can earn the certification. Nonetheless, an online hunter education course is a cheap and beneficial educational opportunity for your kids that can be accessed by clicking any of the logos below.

Arkansas GFC

Iowa DNR

Online Boating Safety Courses

Online Boating Education Courses can be another great opportunity to give your students the tools and education they need in water safety. These courses are similar to online hunter education courses in that they are engaging, entertaining and highly educational. The following links are just a couple of states that offer online boating safety courses. Please make sure you check with your state’s rules and regulations regarding reciprocity and additional course requirements for the certification of your young boater.

The Powderhook team wishes that you and your family stay safe during these transformative times. We hope that these resources can help you right now, but we know that they will help us in our long-term goal of creating a brighter future where every American can enjoy the outdoors. If COVID-19 is going to teach us anything, let it be an appreciation for one another, public access and our place in nature. Stay tuned for next week’s article where we will give you some back-yard activities to help keep your kids safe, interested and passionate about the outdoors!

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McKean Minute: Be a Diamond

A good friend who, as an urban firefighter, has made a career out of helping people in hard times, told me that anxiety and external pressure accentuate the personalities of humans. Generous, benevolent people tend to be more so when the chips are down, sharing precious resources and ministering to strangers in pain. Suspicious, mistrustful folk tend to become increasingly covetous and isolating as the vise tightens.

“Pressure makes diamonds,” he told me, citing one of those platitudes you probably heard from your high-school football coach. But then he adds a perspective from his job. “Pressure also makes coal.”

I mention this, of course, in the context of our current tightening vise, the widening and deepening spread of the vile coronavirus. As I write this, we are in the early days of sequestration as families and small social units and figuring out just how serious and lasting this moment will be.

I’ve noticed a couple of tendencies in this time. The first is a sort of self-satisfied glee that we, as hunters and foragers, have been preparing all our lives for this moment. We post photos of our freezers full of wild game and closets full of guns. The second is a sort of shared condemnation of our neighbors as they (and we) raid grocery stores, stock up on essential (and non-essential) items, and fret openly about what’s ahead.

None of us has a good idea of what is ahead, but if other countries and communities are a guide, then we could be faced with intense pressure as health-care resources are stretched, travel restrictions are imposed, isolation creates anxiety and scarcity, and people we know and love are laid low by this silent, invisible stranger.

I have a lot of hopes about how this all ends, but one of them is that we come out the other side as individuals and communities tested by pressure and proven to be worthy of our own expectation of ourselves as generous and benevolent.

You have a choice. Be a diamond.

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McKean Minute: My Father’s Shirts

I inherited my mother’s left-handedness, my father’s nose, and my great-grandfather’s love of lever-action rifles.

If you inspect your own various anatomical and behavioral preferences, I’m guessing you can see shadows of your own kin, whether they’ve passed on to a happy hunting ground or are still on the sunny side of the sod.

There are some less fortunate attributes that I’ve inherited, too. I recognize my father’s intolerance for dim-witted people in my personality. I’ve gone as far as mimicking my father’s term for an enemy, whether it’s someone who cut him off in traffic or a neighbor who has been trying to bilk us out of our land for decades. He calls these folks “Friends,” as in “Thanks, friend, for being a wretched driver.” As a young kid, I recognized that my father’s use of the term “friend” meant pretty much exactly the opposite. I can only hope my own kids—who have well-endowed senses of irony—recognize my similar use of the term.

My maternal grandfather, who died before I was born, passed on to me a love of soggy bottomlands and the life they hold, including secluded duck holes in the stinking black timber. My paternal grandmother gave me a love of bourbon on the rocks. And a whole wave of paternal relatives gave me an abiding love of the wide-open West, that empire of drought-parched range, spindly vegetation, and wind-blasted homesteads where they left their mark, at least temporarily.

But my mother gave me her stature. My mom is tiny, and seems to decrease in volume every year. I recall when I was a freshman in high school, and weighed right around 100 pounds, that my mon and I made a bet about which of us would be unable to give blood. At the time, my mom packed 98 pounds into her 5-foot, 1-inch frame. I won, though I also passed out on the blood-draw gurney.

On the other side of the genetic ledger, my dad stood an imposing 6-foot, 3-inches, and he probably weighed 180 pounds at his fighting weight. He also gave blood, and he dressed in Wrangler jeans (or sometimes khaki trousers when he needed to dress up) and a rustic button-down shirt (always with an undershirt beneath) in either twill or chambray. I have a few of his old shirts, handed down to me after his death a decade ago. Some have stains, from bar oil or gear grease, but all have a comfortable, homey, rumpled hand.

My dad and I have similar taste in shirts—and in undershirts. I’d love to wear his old, work-worn shirts, to strike the same heroic pose he did when I was a kid, and transport me back to fixing fence or roping calves or baling hay.

But I buy my clothes—when I buy new clothes—on the Youth Large rack. I’m a small man, only slightly larger than my mom at her fighting weight. I could probably fit two of my statures inside one of my late dad’s shirts. Still, they hang in my closet, waiting for the next right-sized heir to heave into them, and then to swing an ax or a hammer, to shoulder a vintage rifle, or to coax a corner post into place. It’s what passes for inheritance in my family.

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McKean Minute: A Dog Named Sue

I recently wrote in this space about the untimely passing of my best friend. I may have mentioned Scott’s incomparable personality, an infectious mixture of mischief and malarkey sprinkled with equal parts responsibility and get-er-doneness. Scott was the person in my life most likely to show up unannounced with a six-pack, and also to write my own mother on her birthday.

I was asked to say a few words at Scott’s memorial service earlier this month, and I regret to say that my remarks were hurried and unformed, partly out of grief, partly out of my inability to believe that he was really dead, such a vibrant person undeservedly plucked from the living.

I started my remarks talking, as I often do, about my dog. Her name is now Nellie, but for the first couple weeks in our house, she didn’t have a name. We were trying to define her personality, and would hang a name on her only after we got a sense of her dogness. I didn’t tell my family at the time, but I nearly named her Scott.

The first reason was high irony. Scott’s favorite song, and one he belted out at the top of his voice on long road trips with me, was “A Boy Named Sue,” the Johnny Cash version. He would gravel his voice for the part about “the mud and the blood and the beer.” I thought how funny it would be to name my own female dog “Scott” as a sort of homage to Johnny’s Sue.

The more I considered the name, the more it fit. Our dog is a charming, maddening, delightful, aggravating mix of rascality, loyalty, spontaneity, and surprise. While she’s unlikely to ever write my mother on any occasion, she otherwise is a pretty good incarnation of Scott. I mentioned all this at the funeral service, but I may have overly stressed the more unfortunate traits of my dog. She’s a delinquent and an opportunistic petty criminal, more likely to retrieve a rotting deer leg than the stick I just threw her, and incapable of walking away from something putrid, the more stinky and skanky the more likely she is to roll in it.

But Nellie also has the keenest senses of smell and humor of any dog I’ve encountered. Everything for her is potential fun, whether it’s a sock or a log larger than she is, she’s going to find a way to bring it to me and then make a game out of it. That’s Scott. He could find fun in the most mundane, stultifying, and tedious task, and turn it into an opportunity for mirth and mayhem. I mentioned all of that, to the knowing nods of Scott’s friends and family, at the service.

What I didn’t mention, though, is the absolute tenacious loyalty that both Nellie and Scott possess. Nellie simply won’t give up, whether it’s in pursuit of a downed rooster or a thrown ball. She’ll keep searching until I call her off or she finds it. Scott was the same way. He’d do anything for a friend, and keep on the task until it was finished or forgotten by everyone but him. Nellie is loyal to a fault. She’ll have fun with fellow dogs and visitors, but at the end of the day, she’s by my side, ready to hunt them up or hook up for the next adventure. Scott was the same way. There was no one in my life with a fiercer sense of commitment or loyalty to a friend or a mission.

So, you’ll excuse me if sometimes when I send Nellie for a long retrieve, I slip up and say “Go gettum, Scott….” Or if, when she comes back with some putrid find and looks up at me expecting praise and a pat on the head, I shake my own head and say, “Scott, yer a dumbass.” I say it all with the greatest affection and the grievous knowledge that best friends, like good dogs, don’t live nearly long enough.

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McKean Minute: Define Yourself as a ‘Wildlife Trustee’

You may recall that I wrote in this space last year about my unease with our traditional term to describe those of us who hunt and fish. We’ve called ourselves “sportsmen” for the better part of a century, and while the term describes a certain type of person, it leaves some people out of the club.

I’m not the most politically correct person you’ll meet, but I do think that language matters. In this age of inclusiveness, people are hyper-sensitive being excluded by terms that seem to favor one group over others. Add to that the documented decline in traditional hunters in America. As a dwindling community we should be looking for any term that helps add to our ranks.

Last year I introduced the gender-neutral term “chaser” to describe our pursuit of wild animals. Taken deeper down the linguistic rabbithole, the term echoes the French term for hunter, which is “chasseur.”

It will be no surprise to anyone that the term didn’t exactly catch fire—maybe because of the French connotations, maybe because we hunters think ourselves as catchers more than simply chasers. Consequently, we’re still using “sportsmen” to describe our male-dominated fraternity. So, I’d like to try again, in the hopes that we can expand the parlance of our predilection.

I propose the term “trustee” to describe those of us who fund wildlife management in this country, those of us who buy hunting gear, who buy hunting licenses, and who abide by the laws—both written and unwritten—that define the proper way to chase wildlife. The term, like all terms, is loaded, but it harkens back to the essence of our role in the very American way that we manage wildlife.

You’ve undoubtedly heard of the North American model of wildlife conservation (if you haven’t, then download almost any archived episode of our podcast, On Gravel, and hear Ryan Bronsen extol the virtues of this model). It establishes that wildlife is owned by everyone, and is held in trust by state and provincial wildlife agencies, who manage it according to scientific principles and democratic distribution. When we individuals buy a license, we accept our trust responsibilities to take only what we can use, to obey all other rules, and to pursue animals in an ethical and sustainable manner.

In essence, we hunters (and anglers) are trustees of this public resource. So what better term to describe our community. We are wildlife trustees, or in short, trustees. It’s a noble term, asking members to uphold high and community-minded ideals. It’s an inclusive term, not singling out a specific gender or singular type of pursuit. It’s an ambitious term. If you accept that you are a trustee, then you are required to uphold the highest and best purposes of the public resource that you’re entrusted with. And it’s expansive enough that it allows us to carve out specific definitions. Some of us might be bass trustees. Others elk trustees.

It also implies fiduciary responsibility. Just as a school district’s trustees are responsible for appropriate use of public funds, a wildlife trustee is entrusted with upholding the assets of our rich heritage, the wild animals that we share in common, but pursue with purpose as licensed, capable, appreciative protectors and beneficiaries of our public resource.

So, welcome to the club, fellow “trustee.” Now, go out and add to our ranks.

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Outdoor recruitment, retention, reactivation and access from the creators of Powderhook.com

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